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Cameron to receive Leveson report as Tory party splits on press regulation

28 November 2012

David Cameron will receive his copy of the Leveson report later today, and will meet twice with Nick Clegg to discuss its contents: once this evening, and again as part of a coalition committee tomorrow. There will be a Commons statement tomorrow at about 2.30 from the Prime Minister, but Nick Robinson reports this morning that the Deputy Prime Minister is considering speaking after his colleague if the pair fail to agree on the government’s response to the Leveson report.

Those won’t be the only tensions over the recommendations from the Inquiry, though. Scores of Tories are among the 86 MPs,who have signed a letter which today pleads with the government to not introduce state-backed regulation of newspapers. It bears the signatures of all the Conservative members of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee. The letter was co-ordinated by a new member of that committee, Conor Burns, and Labour grandee David Blunkett. It says:

‘As parliamentarians, we believe in free speech and are opposed to the imposition of any form of statutory control even if it is dressed up as underpinning. It is redress that is vital, not broader regulation. Statutory regulation would require the imposition of state licensing – abolished in Britain in 1695. State licensing is inimical to any idea of press freedom and would radically alter the balance of our unwritten constitution.’

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This is a response to the letter in the Guardian from 42 Conservative MPs calling for statutory regulation: since its publication, the number of Tories supporting this change has grown to around 70, although one MP, Chris Skidmore, has since said he regrets signing it. It exposes a damaging split in the Conservative party that goes all the way to the Cabinet, with ministers such as Michael Gove, Eric Pickles and William Hague all believing the government should ‘err on the side of freedom’, to quote the Foreign Secretary. The point that Burns and Blunkett’s group of MPs is making is that you can’t have a little bit of state regulation: as Fraser said in his column last week, you can’t be a little bit pregnant.

The problem for the Prime Minister is that he rather boxed himself into a corner when, as he was giving evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, he said: ‘I accept we can’t say it’s the last-chance saloon all over again. We’ve done that.’ The least troublesome course he could take would be to accept a beefed-up self regulation model of the kind developed by PCC chair Lord Hunt, which would give a new regulator powers that the PCC never enjoyed, while hanging statutory regulation as a threat over the newspaper industry if it fails in its last chance at remaining in the last chance saloon. But even that will enrage many on the other side, who will see the decision as the Prime Minister bowing to the furious press. Even if Clegg does not speak in the debate tomorrow, yawning splits will open up across the House and particularly in the Tory party, whatever Cameron chooses to do.


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Show comments
  • Daniel Maris

    Defend free speech now, while you can – while it’s still not an offence to defend it.

    • dalai guevara

      Is that really the issue? Running ten+ independently run red tops dishing out phone hacking stuff day in day out? Is that what you call free press? Has it occured to you that apart from Italy, no other nation on the planet has to endure as much ‘information for the thick’ as we have? It’s time to raise the standards.

  • Chris lancashire

    Two points come to mind. Any Conservative MP who thinks state regulation of the Press is a good idea ought to join the Labour Party.
    Secondly, what is the point? Anything the Press were to be prevented from printing will already be available on the internet.
    Sorry, third comes to mind, Hugh Grant chases publicity when he wants it to promote himself, wants it muzzled when he doesn’t like what it might say.

    • Tubby_Isaacs

      Feeble argument. Because you want to promote a film you have to have your daughter’s privacy invaded?

  • Bob Dixon

    The enquiry was interesting and kept us amused, but at great cost. No new laws are necessary as we have laws in place already.

  • Vulture

    This one’s destined for the long grass. It’ll be forgotten by Monday.

    • FrenchNewsonlin

      Certainly hope you’ re right Vulture. Mugabe and other petty dictators are watching with unbaited breath.

      • HooksLaw

        The fact that there is a legal framewortk for press regulation in other democratic countries in Europe does not seem to have caused problems.

        who knows it may be that the press in Denmark are actually interested in reporting the news rather than tittle tattle and the prejudices of its owners.

        • DavidDP

          The press anywhere is interested in reporting what it’s readers want. They may be restricted in doing so by statutory regulation; this is wrong.

          • HooksLaw

            Newspapers can tell the truth and be safe. And of course as you know full well in terms of privacy (do you believe in privacy?) there is a difference between public interest and the interest of the public.

        • Daniel Maris

          It’s not for us to tell other democratic countries how to run their affairs. Denmark is also the land that stood up for free speech by publishing the Mohammed cartoons. Could that happen here? No. We have a very strong establishment here and they will use controls on the media to strangle free speech.

        • Colonel Mustard

          Denmark has a very different cultural approach, more mature than the dumbed down, knee-jerk hysteria that permeates British politics. Also, I doubt that Common Purpose has much of a foothold there. The equivalent of the Danish Press Council in the UK would be stuffed full of sanctimonious, chippy, left-wing quangocrats and jobsworths like Fat Pang, smeared with the invisible, artery-clogging lard of Common Purpose and would soon descend into lefty PC tick-box witch-hunting and star chamber type interrogations. Britain can’t be trusted with press regulation until it grows up and out of its socialist fad.

    • DavidDP

      Unlikely. Both sides on this are vocal and the disappointed ones are going to make this run and run for as long as they can. Expect Labour to take up what ever option is rejected.

      • Vulture

        There’ll be plenty of self-righteous huffing and puffing, but no legislation for statutory regulation: mark my words.

  • HooksLaw

    off topic but related to the previous millionaires thread, all the supporters of Ed and Ed, and we know who he is, might want to read this

    ‘In the 2009-10 tax year, more than 16,000 people declared an annual income of
    more than £1 million to HM Revenue and Customs.
    This number fell to just 6,000 after Gordon Brown introduced the new 50p top
    rate of income tax shortly before the last general election.’

    • Tubby_Isaacs

      It’s possible to defer, bring forward income when it’s trailed so far in advance (as it was, probably for political reasons). We need to know what it was in 2008-9.

      It doesn’t show 2/3 of millionaires left Britain.

  • John Stredham

    So they will manage to read a whole report, decide how to respond to it, draft a Comons statement and deliver it in under 24 hours. Is this perhaps a little rushed?

    • HooksLaw

      This is the way of the world, but it would take a while to develop any legislation.

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